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What ISOC and Canada said to the US government

Category : Internet governance · by Jul 29th, 2006

I’m beginning to bore myself going on about the NTIA meeting, but here are the two most important statements made over the future of Internet governance on Wednesday. The first by Internet Society (ISOC) president and CEO Lynn St. Amour and the second by the Canadian government representative Bill Graham.

I will put the whole statements below, plus I also have a pdf of the Canadian government’s official response to the NTIA inquiry [pdf] which was only released yesterday, and which gives some interesting statements about how it believes the crucial Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) part of ICANN should function within the ICANN system.

In terms of the explicit criticism of ICANN and the US government that the US press has carefully chosen to ignore, however, here are the main statements:

ISOC

“We do not believe that the DoC shoulld be in the position of repeatedly evaluating and directing ICANN’s performance…”

“As long as the US government has a role in ICANN’s governance and management, organisations and other governments have an incentive to try to leverage political channels to their favour, rather than allowing the Internet to evolve organically…”

“The current MoU puts the DoC in an affirmative position of involvement in, and to some extent in a position of needing to dictate specific ICANN activities. This can hamper ICANN and other organisations and can be seen as competing with the established principles…”

“The MoU, which was originally designed to support and shore up ICANN in its early days, is now actually hampering ICANNs continued development and their legitimacy in the eyes of many…”

Canadian government

“A second area where things could be improved is in the area of internationalization… To make internationalisation a reality, we would welcome a statement that while the US government will retain authority over the IANA function, it will open up the process by which it exercises that authority…”

“The most important area where we think there needs to be improvement before moving to a post-MOU environment is in ICANN’s transparency and accountability. We think that at present there is a real shortfall here…”

Full statements:

ISOC (here, as a pdf)

My comments today build on the statement we submitted to the NTIA several weeks ago. We trust that the ISOC statement will be taken into account as there are points that we feel strongly about (namely the IAB, IANA, and root server comments) that I may not touch upon today due to time constraints.

ISOC believes that the success of the Internet lies in the fact that it is a “network of networks” characterised by distributed management and a minimum of regulation. Operational and governance mechanisms are implemented as locally as possible using bottom-up community based processes built on publicly developed principles. These principles and processes have also enabled the Internet to grow rapidly, adapt to new demands and opportunities (and as such is an organic development model), and this is where the strength and stability of the Internet model lies. It has also meant that no one entity or indeed any one government can “own” or “control” the Internet, and this is still true today.

ISOC has always supported the self-regulation model of the Internet, and strongly supports ICANN and the role it plays in co-ordinating certain aspects of the “collaborative” Internet management model. The Department of Commerce states that the milestones in the 6th amendment to the MoU are “intended to ensure ICANN is a sufficiently stable, transparent, representative, efficient, and sustainable management organisation capable of handling the important DNS tasks well into the future.” ISOC believes that ICANN has made commendable progress in meeting these milestones and that its operations are sufficient vis-a-vis the 6th Amendement. While there is always room for improvement, we believe that ICANN, related organisations and their supporting processes are ready to take the next step in the move to support the Internet’s management and development in a private sector model, just as envisioned by the US Government in 1998. We believe it is time to move to a minimal, transitional MoU where the US government plays a “backstop” role that would only come into play in the event of a serious organisational failure.

We continue to be concerned about attempts to politicise the Internet and its management. As long as the US government has a role in ICANN’s governance and management, organisations and other governments have an incentive to try to leverage political channels to their favour, rather than allowing the Internet to evolve organically through the proven, bottom-up, need drive, community processes that have clearly served it well.

Further, given the purpose of the MoU was to transition the US Government’s responsibilities to the private sector we do not believe that the DoC should be in the position of repeatedly evaluating and directing ICANN’s performance. The longer this continues the more difficult it will be to break out of this “oversight” model, as the Internet and the organisations involved in its development are constantly changing, meaning there will always be yet more “tasks” to be completed.

ISOC believes the MoU as it is currently constructed, is no longer necessary or appropriate at this stage of the Internet and ICANN’s development. The current MoU puts the DoC in an affirmative position of involvement in, and to some extent in a position of needing to dictate specific ICANN activities. This can hamper ICANN and other organisations and can be seen as competing with the established principles. These principles are important, but no longer need to be codified in an MoU.

Further, the task list approach currently employed risks locking in approaches and constraining the ability of the Internet community to develop responses to complex and evolving issues. And as new technological developements occur, whether in the underlying infrastructure, in the development of new ways to navigate on the Internet, or in ways yet unforeseen, the role today’s Domain Name System plays will change over time. We need to ensure that ICANN and the other organisations in the Domain Name space have enough autonomy to respond appropriately, following the models of development and management that have been used for the last thirty years. These processes allow all parties (including governments) the chance to participate in the Internet’s development and management and have stood the Internet very well to date. Again, these “tasks” are important but they will change over time and should not be codified in an MoU, even though they will be addressed inside the ICANN framework. ICANN needs room to develop processes that suit the Internet’s continual evolution and it is time to take this next step.

Finally, as the MoU has become a symbol internationally of US control over the DNS, it can be argued that the MoU, which was originally designed to support and shore up ICANN in its early days, is now actually hampering ICANN’s continued development and their legitimacy in the eyes of many.

In summary, while we recognise and applaud the “light-hand” the US government has always taken with respect to the Internet, the time has come for the DoC to take another step toward its intended final state and move to an even more hands-off “backstop” role. This will allow the DoC to focus on more appropriate interests such as the long-term stability of ICANN – which is also a legitimate international interest. ISOC believes a clear unambiguous signal needs to be made internationally that we are entering a new phase and taking steps to move to the private sector model per the original vision of the US Government. We do not believe it is necessary to extend the MoU as it is currently structured, and we believe ICANN is ready to take the next step in its transition, assuming the US Government moves to a role where they act as a true “backstop” and not operational overseer.

Thankyou for the opportunity to comment.

Canadian government

Thank you for inviting me. Canada has prepared an input paper for the Notice of Inquiry, which will be provided for posting tomorrow, and I would encourage you to refer to it for a formal statement of our views.

The first thing that needs to be said is that Canada believes the 4 principles announced in the 1998 White Paper remain relevant, ALTHOUGH we see there is still room for improvement. And we do not doubt that ICANN and its community are open to making improvements.

We have concerns, particularly in the post-WSIS environment, that there are pressures on ICANN to do things it was not intended to do – to get into areas of policy that go beyond its technical role. In order to create the conditions for becoming fully private-sector, ICANN and its stakeholders need to take a very narrow view of its role. This is particularly so in areas of policy.

A second area where things could be improved is in the area of internationalization. We think it would be helpful if the US government could clarify what it means by “internationalization” in the current environment. Of course we saw Michael Gallagher’s four principles last summer, for example, and particularly noted the one concerning the IANA function. To make internationalization a reality, we would welcome a statement that while the US government will retain authority over the IANA function, it will open up the process by which it exercises that authority.

For example, it could say that it will restrict exercise of this authority to situations where it is essential to preserve the technical stability and security of the DNS. It could then find a mechanism to involve other governments in the decision making. We think this would show commitment to internationalization, but it would also be a learning experience for other governments which would quickly learn how few occasions there are for exercising this limited authority.

In our paper, we refer to the suggestions put forward by Becky Burr and Marilyn Cade that move in this direction, which we think could be a starting point for discussion.

The third and most important area where we think there needs to be improvement before moving to a post-MOU environment is in ICANN’s transparency and accountability. We think that at present there is a real shortfall here. To be quite specific, we think that it is time for ICANN to recognize that it is in many ways a quasi-judicial body, and that it must begin to behave that way. That means that the ICANN Board needs to provide adequate minutes of all of its meetings.

And in the case of the most important decisions, particularly those involving policy considerations, formal processes need to be adopted:
• There needs to be notice of what issues will be considered, and the timeframe
• When a decision is made, a written document needs to be posted setting out the background and context for the issues, FOR EXAMPLE
• There needs to be an acknowledgement and summary of the positions of interested parties
• There needs to be an analysis of the issues,
• There needs to be an explanation of the decision, and the reasons for it, and ultimately
• There needs to be a mechanism for the Board to be held accountable by its community

We believe the time taken to make this information available on the website will be more than justified by the increase in transparency, of understanding and of trust. For ICANN to operate as a private entity, trust is perhaps the most vital element to its success.

In our paper, we talk quite a bit about the GAC, and what should be its role with regard to ICANN. I would be happy to talk about that in the discussion or afterwards. But in the interests of time, I would only want to say here that governments will want to continue being involved in ICANN, and we believe that involvement can be mutually beneficial.

However, we believe the letter “A” in the name of the GAC is vitally important. The GAC needs to improve its understanding and expectations of the advisory function, and to find ways to provide a range of advice in a timely fashion. By doing those two things, we can make our own contribution to the improved functioning of ICANN that can eventually lead to privatization.

Again thank you, and I look forward to our discussions.

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